Italy and Spain fear discrimination because patents would be filed only in English, French or German. The two countries have filed a legal challenge with the European Court of Justice (ECJ), arguing that the new enhanced co-operation procedure should not be used to bring in the patent system. In fact, efforts to get an EU-wide agreement on patents have been blocked for many years by language disputes and the lack of unanimity.
At the moment, the European patent requires validation in each member state, and a full translation of the patent in the official national language. The new single patent system is expected to be in place by 2013, and should cut the current €32,000 it costs to get a patent across the 27 EU countries (€23,000 only for translations) to €2,500 for the 25 countries participating in the project (all but Italy and Spain), and further down to €680 at the end of a 12-year transitional period. In the U.S., a patent filing costs about €1,850.
Implications for the Language Services Industry
This is not good news for LSPs, but companies have been preparing for sometime. In fact, RWS Holdings, the biggest patent translations company in Europe, mentioned in its 2010 Annual Report that "The thrust of our acquisition strategy since 2005 has been to target technical translation businesses which have zero exposure to any developments in the patent field."
Lingtech, the Danish company that developed machine translation solutions for patents into Scandinavian languages, saw its revenues dwindle since the London Agreement and was recently acquired by Kommunicera AB.
But not all is gloom.
- Translations will still be required between English, French, and German, and in some cases into each European language.
- The expectation is that the number of patents registered in Europe will increase because of the cost savings. So the reduction in number of translations could be offset by the increase in the number of documents filed.
- Asian countries file more and more patents every year. Those patents will need to be translated into European languages for filing. This means that there might be also a shift in the language pairs required for patent translations.
Even though I personally believe that the cost of translation is just a cost of doing business and that respect for linguistic diversity is a core EU value contained in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, I think that the train has left the station and a Single European Patent will be reality LSPs will have to contend with.